HC Deb 24 March 1881 vol 259 cc1826-31

MR. GLADSTONE moved, That the Orders of the Day be postponed until after the Notice of Motion relating to Afghanistan.


rose to ask the right hon. Gentleman a Question with reference to the order of Business for to-morrow. He was not one of those who could be accused of wasting the time of the House in making speeches for the sake of hearing his own voice; but the ballot had thrown into his hands an opportunity of bringing forward to-morrow a subject which interested not only his own constituents, but the agricultural constituencies generally throughout the country—that of local taxation. He could not but think he should be a fool to give up the bird he held in his hand for any number of birds which the right hon. Gentleman might be able to point out to him in the bush. It was quite true the right hon. Gentleman had courteously offered him a place on Monday, but only a second place; and he could not forget that on seine occasions the discussions upon the Mutiny Bill had extended to very great length. It might not be within the control of the right hon. Gentleman on Monday to secure the second reading of that Bill as he wished. All those who had the honour of a seat in that House were forced to have two sides to their hearts—a soft side and a hard side. These were feelings he had long been forced to cultivate. Socially, no one was more desirous of doing everything in his power to oblige hon. Gentlemen opposite; politically, he was unfortunately opposed to them. It could hardly be the desire of the right hon. Gentleman opposite to despise the wishes of the agriculturists in this matter, and all he could say was—"If these be thy gods, O farmers, God help the farmers!"


said, that he had obtained the third place to-morrow for his Motion, which related to a very important international question relating to lights for fishing vessels, which affected all the maritime Powers throughout the world; and he was afraid that, if he did not get it on before Whitsuntide, he should be told by the Board of Trade that it was then too late to communicate with foreign Powers on the subject. In the event, therefore, of his giving up his place to-morrow, he must ask the right hon. Gentleman to give him an equally favourable place on another day.


said, it was customary, when the Government gave up a day for the discussion of a Vote involving a censure on, or want of confidence in, their conduct, that if the debate on the subject were continued beyond one night it was to be regarded as a matter of common interest, in favour of which private Members should give way. He had not asked the hon. Member for Oxfordshire to sacrifice his rights altogether. It was impossible for him or anyone else to manufacture time, and he could not make distinct demands upon Gentlemen who had got command of days usually devoted to independent Members between this and Easter. They would probably tell him that their claim was of the same character as that of the hon. Member for Oxfordshire. There were four days before Easter which were, by the courtesy of the House, at the command of the Government. One of these days was to be devoted to the introduction of the Irish Land Bill. He did not suppose the hon. Member would propose they should give up that day. Another was to be devoted to the introduction of the Financial Statement. That also was a day which could not be given up. With regard to the other two days, there was one claim which was absolutely indispensable, and that was the Mutiny Bill, and he did not see why that might not be discussed and disposed of on one of those days, Monday next. On that account he proposed on Thursday to go into Committee on the Bill; and, as far as the Government was concerned, the whole evening would be at the disposal of the House for the purpose of debating the Bill, either on the Motion that the Speaker do leave the Chair or upon the clauses in Committee. The Government would therefore propose to take the second reading on Monday, in order to secure the Committee stage on Thursday; and it did not appear likely, in the ordinary course of things, to lead to a general debate, inasmuch as the principle of the Bill was not contested. They would propose to take that as the first Order on Monday, and the hon. Member for Oxfordshire would be able to bring on his Motion the same evening.


observed, that no doubt the custom as it had existed for many years when Votes of Censure in that House were moved had been correctly stated by the right hon. Gentleman; but, undoubtedly, during the present Session unusual sacrifices had been demanded from private Members. The hon. Member for Oxfordshire did not put forward an unreasonable demand when he asked that if he gave up his good position to-morrow he should have an equally favourable opportunity afforded him of bringing forward his Motion on some other occasion. The hon. Member, who had been originally under the impression that he was to have the first place on Monday, had agreed to give up his place to-morrow. [Mr. GLADSTONE observed, that that was a misunderstanding.] Well, the hon. Member had acted under that impression, whether it was a misunderstanding or not. The right hon. Gentleman now offered the hon. Member the second place on Monday instead of the first place on Friday, stating that the discussion on the second reading of the Mutiny Bill on Monday would be very short. In that case, why not let the hon. Member's Motion be taken in the first place and the formal reading of the Mutiny Bill a second time be taken afterwards?


said, that the right hon. Gentleman opposite had quite forgotten that if the discussion on the hon. Member's Motion lasted until half-past 12 it would be in the power of any hon. Member, by giving Notice of opposition to the Mutiny Bill, to block the second reading for that night. It was, therefore, essential to take the second reading first, unless the House was prepared to take a shorter holiday at Easter.


characterized the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister as a very clever mode of stifling all discussion upon the second reading of the Mutiny Bill, into which they had, contrary to the usual practice, introduced controversial matter. The right hon. Gentleman had referred to the usual practice when Votes of Censure were moved in that House; but he had not alluded to the fact that the Government had taken every private Member's night for the last two months in succession, which they had devoted not only to Supply, but to the forwarding of other Government measures, such as the Sea Fisheries (Clam and Bait Beds) Bill. Of all the propositions he had ever heard made in the House the suggestion that the Mutiny Bill, which, when the present Government were out of Office, was discussed night after night, should now be read for a second time after one evening's debate, was the most unreasonable. It came to this—that the private Members had to make a stand against the evident intention of the Government to absorb the whole time of the House; and he looked upon the desire of the Prime Minister to give the second place on Monday to the hon. Member for Oxfordshire as simply a covert way of forwarding his own measures. Now, if the hon. Member for Oxfordshire gave way, what would be the position of the hon. Member for Norfolk (Mr. Birkbeck)? As things were, his Motion which was one of considerable importance, came immediately after that of the hon. Member for Oxfordshire, and the House would be able to express an opinion upon it; but the right hon. Gentleman had made no reference to the matter, and had ignored it in the proposals he had made to the House. He could only protest again, on behalf of the private Members, that it was necessary for them to look to their own interests.


thought that the noble Lord was hardly just in saying that the Government endeavoured to take the time of the private Members, as that very evening they were giving the time of the Government to a private Member. ["Oh, oh!"] Well, a Motion of Censure on the Government was certainly not a Government Motion. However, it was only in accordance with the usual practice on such occasions for them to give every facility for the Motion; but was it too much, if the Motion led to a protracted debate, to ask the private Members, on their part, to facilitate an important discussion? The Government, so far from doing anything unfair, only asked the private Members to do what they were themselves doing—namely, to sacrifice their convenience in order to make room for the Motion of the hon. Member for Mid Lincolnshire (Mr. E. Stanhope). As for the position of the hon. Member for Norfolk (Mr. Birkbeck), it would be precisely what it was before; and the noble Lord should have remembered that in any case the hon. Member would not have been able to take the opinion of the House on his Motion.


explained that he had argued that the hon. Member would not be able to elicit a vote of the House, but its opinion by means of a debate.


observed, that that was usually done by taking a vote. At any rate, the position of the hon. Member would remain unaltered, and Ids Motion would still stand second on the Paper on Monday. [An hon. MEMBER: Third.] In either case, it would follow the Motion that originally stood first. Then the noble Lord had complained that the object of the Government was to forward their own measures; but the Mutiny Act was one which interested both Parties equally, and could not possibly be described as a Government Bill. It would be most unwise to run any risk with regard to the renewing of that Act in good time; and he thought the plan of the right hon. Gentleman was the only way of avoiding confusion in the Business of the House. It was true that unusual demands had that Session been made on the time of private Members; but that was a circumstance over which the Government, however much they might regret it, had no control. ["Oh, oh!"] He did not know why hon. Members should demur to that statement, considering that both sides of the House had acquiesced in the arrangements made at the beginning of the Session. At all events, they were now in a situation from which no one but the Prime Minister had suggested any practical means of escape.


urged the desirability of closing the discussion. The matter was essentially one that ought to be settled out of the House. If he were asked to reconcile the reasonable and legitimate demands of the hon. Member for Oxfordshire with the almost equally legitimate claims of the Government, he would suggest that a Morning Sitting on Tuesday would, perhaps, be acceptable to both the parties concerned.


regarded the difficulty as a practical illustration of the inconvenience of the half-past 12 o'clock Rule.


hoped that the hon. Member for Oxfordshire would adhere strictly to his rights, unless the Government undertook to place him in an equally advantageous position on another day.

Motion agreed to. Ordered, That the Orders of the Day be postponed until after the Notice of Motion relating to Afghanistan.—(Mr. Gladstone.)

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